MESOP FLASH – Regional Actors Increase Support to Syrian Rebel Groups

The claim by moderate rebel groups in southern Syria that regional actors are considering providing some form of anti-aircraft capabilities in support of anti-Assad operations follows recent reports of increased weapons and aid provided to northern Syrian rebel groups by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. According to unidentified regional officials, these deliveries enabled recent victories by anti-Assad forces in Idlib Province. A series of meetings that occurred in Turkey beginning in late April between major rebel factions may support the possibility of regional intent to intervene directly as a component this increasing support. The leaders of prominent hardline Islamist groups Jaysh al-Islam and Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya (HASI) were photographed together in a meeting in Turkey on May 3, in which they reportedly discussed a deepening cooperation in Syria. These two groups are powerful anti-Assad actors, and a deepened relationship between them could create a powerful military ally for regional actors that is capable of acting across multiple fronts. The hardline nature of these groups, however, makes them unlikely to support the emergence of a fully democratic and inclusive post-Assad Syrian state.